Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 15

On a visit to Ukraine on January 18-19, Russia’s Defense Minister Igor Sergeev sought to exploit the internal political crisis there and draw Ukraine into closer military relations with Russia. Sergeev appeared prepared to capitalize on the mutually debilitating conflict between–and, increasingly, within–Ukraine’s branches of power.

Sergeev held separate meetings with President Leonid Kuchma, Verkhovna Rada Chairman Ivan Plyushch, Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk. To a degree, Sergeev’s visit confirmed Moscow’s planning assumption that the Ukrainian presidential administration, cabinet of ministers, and parts of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) could, in their weakened condition, be nudged into some concessions they had long withheld.

The sides agreed in principle to exercise “joint control” over the inner and outer anchorages of their respective fleets in Sevastopol. Ukraine had previously turned that idea down because Sevastopol and its waters are Ukrainian territory, subject to Ukrainian–not “joint” or “shared”–control. Ukraine, moreover, had all along opposed Moscow’s proposals for “joint basing” of the two fleets, ultimately winning Russian acceptance of separate basing in Sevastopol’s bays. Joint control over anchorages, if implemented, would mark a first step backward toward joint basing.

The “joint control” proposal stems in part from Russian frustration with Ukraine’s refusal to prenotify the Russian side about visits by NATO countries’ warships to the Ukrainian naval base in Sevastopol. The October 2000 visit by two American warships was only the latest such case. Ukraine always countered Russian protests by citing Ukraine’s unrestricted sovereign right to receive naval visits in its own waters.

Sergeev revived an earlier Russian proposal to create a joint naval squadron for protecting “common security interests” of Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea. Kyiv’s perception of those interests, however, does not overlap with Moscow’s to the extent of warranting a joint naval squadron. But in the current political atmosphere, the Ukrainian side made three limited, still tentative, concessions. It agreed, first, to consider participating in combat phases of the annual exercise of Russian and Ukrainian fleets in the Black Sea. Until now, the two fleets have held those exercises simultaneously, but not jointly, and the Ukrainians made a point of not holding the combat phase of the exercise in parallel with the Russian fleet.

Second, the Ukrainians agreed to consider creating a joint rescue squadron of the two fleets; and, third, to hold follow-up discussions on creating a joint naval transport squadron to support Russian and Ukrainian peacekeeping troops in international operations. Meanwhile, however, Ukrainian troops serve under NATO command in some peacekeeping operations and participate in NATO-led exercises. Russia does neither. Moscow could use joint transport arrangements, if they are implemented, to dilute Ukraine’s direct ties with NATO.

A further “understanding,” which Sergeev bagged in Kyiv, affects both naval and land exercises to be held in Ukraine under NATO’s aegis. It envisages “Russia’s participation from the outset in the planning of all international exercises on Ukrainian territory.” Exercises at the Yavoriv range–on which Ukraine conferred in 1999 the status of a NATO training center–would presumably fall under that provision. “From the outset” is a key phrase. NATO and Ukraine have all along invited Russia to participate in most exercises on Ukrainian territory, wanting to involve Russia in some of the planning phases of certain exercises. But participation in planning all exercises from the outset would be an intrusive form of involvement. If accepted, it could grant Moscow the voice it seeks in NATO decisions–at the very least with regard to NATO-Ukraine relations.

Along with those tentative concessions, Kyiv turned down those of Sergeev’s proposals which would have severely eroded the Ukrainian–and, thus, the international–ability to monitor Russian military activities in Ukraine’s waters and air space. Moscow wants full latitude to use its fleet, aviation and landing troops [“marine infantry”] based in Sevastopol, without prenotification to Ukraine, in Russian military operations such as those in the Caucasus. It seeks a broad leeway to modernize the Crimean-based Russian fleet and naval aviation and their weaponry–that is, to augment Russian military power on Ukraine’s territory–without having to seek Kyiv’s consent.

Moscow proposes, furthermore, to add several submarines to the Russian fleet–a development which would seriously concern the other Black Sea countries. It rules out Ukrainian short-notice inspection of the Russian fleet’s weaponry, in spite of lingering uncertainty surrounding some of that weaponry’s dual capability–conventional and nuclear. And it wants to exempt its Su-24 aircraft from Ukrainian inspections which would ascertain whether those planes’ special racks for nuclear-armed bombs were removed.

The three Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet’s partition, signed in 1997, left those issues unresolved. Kyiv has since resisted and, apparently, continues resisting Moscow’s attempts to settle those issues on terms detrimental not just to Ukraine, but to international security in the entire Black Sea basin as well.

The Ukrainians openly disagreed with Sergeev’s strictures against NATO’s enlargement. His counterpart Kuzmuk reaffirmed the view that every country has the right independently to choose the means of providing for its security.

Sergeev held out to Ukraine the incentive of joint programs in weapons research and development, production and marketing. The discussions focused on aerospace projects and a military transport plane. The sides agreed on maintaining the status quo regarding the operation of the strategic missile warning system in Ukraine near Sevastopol and Mukacheve, which provide Russia with information in return for modest rental payments (UNIAN, RIA, January 18-20; Zerkalo Nedeli, January 13).

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